Explaining Burlingame | AspenTimes.com

Explaining Burlingame

Steve Barwick
Aspen, CO Colorado

In 2005, the city of Aspen produced a brochure on the Burlingame Ranch Affordable Housing Development. The brochure showed a “total cost” of $74 million for the project as well as a total subsidy of nearly $15 million for the project.

The brochure’s listed “total cost” was only the cost of on-site construction. It did not include all of the elements of building the Burlingame project, including land, infrastructure, design, engineering, changes to the project made by City Council, inflation in the cost of construction and other associated costs. This was not meant to be evasive, but nonetheless was a mistake that should not have happened. We definitely screwed up.

I have heard the sense of outrage from friends and neighbors after they saw such numbers in the media. “The city is completely inept” is a phrase I’ve heard a lot over the past few weeks.

The city can detail how we’ve gotten to where we are and where we are headed, but this editorial isn’t long enough to fully delve into such a complex subject. In the coming weeks, the city of Aspen will host a public meeting about Burlingame and will be providing information through our website, e-newsletters, local media and CGTV. We hope that you will attend the meeting, so stay tuned for more information on the where and when.

Back to the business of explaining this complicated subject: Phase I of Burlingame was delivered on budget. This might shock you, considering some of the statements I’ve been hearing around town, but in 2005, the city of Aspen signed a contract with Shaw Construction to deliver Burlingame Phase I at a fixed contract price of $36.4 million. In 2008, Shaw Construction delivered Phase I on budget, including approved changes made by City Council. As a result, there are now 84 affordable housing units at Burlingame.

All financial decisions regarding Burlingame Phase I were made by City Council in open, public forums. The city accounts for the costs of Burlingame in a transparent fashion, using recommended practices for government financial accounting. Since its inception, Burlingame has undergone several major design changes. Some examples of the most recent changes made to the project by City Council include efforts to “green up” Burlingame with eco-friendly building elements and reducing the price of units ” meaning a smaller financial return from unit sales. These two City Council changes to the project resulted in a subsidy increase of $11.4 million.

The cost of new construction in Aspen has been rising at 10 percent to 20 percent per year for a long time now, while unit sales prices only increase by about 3 percent. This situation guarantees a higher construction subsidy every year. The days of a five-digit subsidy per unit are gone forever.

The total cost for Burlingame (including the not-yet-built Phases II and III that would add 145 units to Burlingame) currently is estimated at $138 million. That estimate is much higher than the incorrect number printed in the 2005 city brochure. Brochure aside, that $138 million is an estimate of the total cost of Burlingame’s three phases and not an amount that has already been spent. I have put together an advisory group of local development experts to create ways to reduce the cost of housing construction at Burlingame and other possible locations ” including density increases and design changes. We also are looking at various partnership opportunities to reduce the use of tax dollars to deliver workforce housing to the community.

In addition, independent audits of Burlingame Phase I should be available to the City Council by late July. We also continue to look at ways to increase the efficacy of eligibility reviews for housing applicants, their continued eligibility to live in those deed-restricted units, and at changes that might allow the community to better use the existing housing inventory.

The subjects mentioned here deserve a much more thorough discussion. Anyone desiring additional details will find them in a variety of upcoming documents, interviews and events. In the meantime, we are determined to provide the best affordable housing program and to excel at any and all other challenges thrown our way by the Aspen City Council.

I know there is often a reflex in public sentiment to believe that all governments are inefficient and deceptive, but this government is not one of them. We pride ourselves on the things we have accomplished ” from delivering basic services such as police, recreation and snow removal to pushing the envelope of public effort on things such as affordable housing and global climate change. This government is different from others. Please look at the facts and don’t let your base inclination overcome what you have experienced from the men and women who serve you at the city of Aspen.